YAPC would like to welcome Gary Schwartz to the blog today. He is here to answer some of our questions and share some info and an excerpt of this book King of Average. If this looks like something you would like to read, please go get a copy!
YAPC: If someone else wrote a blurb about your book what would it say?
Gary: If you were more average than anyone else, would that make you exceptional enough to finally be loved? That is the question eleven year old James wants to find out. When he comes up with this idea, he’s immediately transported to a fantasy realm depicted in his daydream doodles called the Realm of Possibility where he encounters a talking scapegoat named Mayor Culpa, and a professional optimist named Roget, who has an equally professional pessimist in his pocket named Kiljoy. He is offered the chance to be the new King of Average (an actual kingdom in this realm; A mediocracy if you will) if he finds out why the former King, Norman the Unexceptional abdicated.
This Quest brims with adventure and brings him to a new understanding of what it means to strive only to be average in a place called Epiphany. Join James and his friends as he travels the landscape of self-esteem in this hilarious adventure that both children and adults can enjoy.
YAPC: Tell me a little about yourself
Gary: I came from a dysfunctional family; a bi-polar father and extremely neurotic and unhappy mother who eventually became schizophrenic. I saved myself from the chaos and violence and self-destructive behavior by being outwardly funny. This led me to a career as a mime, comedian and actor. It also allowed me to cover up my true feelings for a while and luckily, with enough therapy, wise teachers and determination, I overcame my issues. Along the way, I had the good fortune to be a successful working actor in Los Angeles and now Seattle for over thirty five years.
For years, I told friends of my idea to write a book about a boy with esteem issues like myself in the manner of my favorite childhood book, The Phantom Tollbooth. Finally one friend challenged me to show him 30 pages. I wrote 360 and had my first draft.
YAPC: Did you have support at the beginning and/or during your writing?
Gary: Other than Mark Breitfuss, the challenger who got me off my butt, there were others. I re-read my manuscript and saw it was not good writing. I found a mentor online, Canadian author Susan Hughes who helped me immensely and, with her guidance and support, went through two re-writes until I had a decent book. Writer friends helped too in the polish and eventually I was proud of what I had written.
YAPC: What started you on your journey to be a writer?
Gary: I kept a journal when I was growing up. And kept one throughout my therapy. I also wrote scripts and movie treatments like everyone else in Hollywood and wrote comedy with a partner. I keep a blog now on the work of my mentor and teacher, Viola Spolin and hope someday to publish my essays to add to her cannon.
YAPC: What’s the hardest part of writing a book?
Gary: Getting started. Waiting for the muse. I’m basically lazy.
YAPC: What’s your favorite part of writing a book?
Gary: Once I see the characters, hear their voices and begin the journey, the unfolding of the story is fun to watch as I write. The best is when the characters say things that make other things happen or elicit responses I didn’t expect to hear. Then I feel like I’m watching this thing as I write it.
I love to get so lost in this process, I can be in front of the computer for a whole day without realizing it.
YAPC: What inspired you to write, you took any ideas from other books, movies etc?
Gary: I grew up in the 50s and 60s watching TV almost non-stop. I loved Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz and King Kong. I loved movies and movies about movies.
I loved books about my favorite clowns, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Dick Van Dyke, Buster Keaton, Chaplin, The Three Stooges, et al.
I always wanted to get lost in the world created by writers and movie makers and followed that dream.
Once I realized I’d actually gotten somewhere by following my dream, I turned to writing to see if I could inspire other kids like myself with a story that might give them some hope and insight.
YAPC: Do you have an all-time favorite book?
Gary: I read Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis in the eighth grade and it’s been my favorite book since then. It’s about a writer who writes but forgets to live life and meets a man who lives life fully and completely. It’s about the true friendship that comes when livers/lovers of life and writers of life help each other and find greater meaning in each other’s gifts.
James isn’t the world’s greatest kid, but he’s not the worst, either: He’s average! When he decides to become the most average kid in the entire world, James is transported to another world where he meets Mayor Culpa, a well-dressed talking scapegoat who recruits him to become the new King of Average.
Joined on his quest by a professional Optimist and his grouchy companion, an equally professional Pessimist called Kiljoy, James sets out on a journey of self-discovery that leads him all the way from Lake Inferior to Mount Impossible, the highest peak in the Unattainable Mountains. When he stumbles upon a Shangri-la called Epiphany, James uncovers the secret about who he really is.
Join James on his hilarious, adventure-packed journey to find self-worth in this heartfelt middle grade novel The King of Average by Gary Schwartz
Buy King of Average:
The Great Idea
On his walk home the next day, James took his usual shortcut, cutting across Mrs. Shubin’s backyard toward Hillside Avenue. He considered his report card. All C’s. C stands for satisfactory, he told himself. It means average. You could get by with all C’s.
“See? I’m not so terrible!” he said aloud. He glanced around. Had anyone heard him? No. The only living thing in sight was a little blackbird with orange-tipped wings perched on the telephone wire above his head.
It was a relief to finally hear it out loud. “So I’m average! What’s wrong with that?! Absolutely nothing!”
Then it came to him, an idea so intriguing and paradoxical that he had to laugh. What if I was more average than anybody else in the entire world?!
He was very pleased with himself for coming up with such a wonderful idea. It made him smile as he walked. The more he thought about it, the better he felt. All C’s! That’s average intelligence. Physically, he was average too. When he stood in line at school in order of height, he was always right in the middle. And he was never picked last for team games, like Todd Grant, who couldn’t play very much because he was small and had asthma. Even his name—James. Probably the most common name in the history of the English language. “I bet I could become the most average person who ever lived!” he announced.
That’s when the little bird dove from the wire and headed straight for his head.
“Wraawk! You could!” it cawed.
James covered his head with his arms as the bird dove at him again squawking, “It’s possible!” Then it took off like a shot and disappeared.
Did that bird actually speak? James thought. Maybe it was a mynah bird or something.
He started back for home but stopped when he spied another strange thing: a gray goat wearing wire-rimmed spectacles and a green tweed vest stood in Mrs. Shubin’s garden, calmly grazing on some pansies. A real live goat! The neighborhood had its share of dogs and cats, but never any farm animals. Especially ones in fancy clothes.
Not wanting to scare the goat, James edged closer, moving slowly, until he heard it mutter, “Oh, me. Oh, dear me. Dear mee-ee-ee!”
James blinked. Then blinked again—hard. “Are you a real goat, or someone dressed up to look like a goat?”
The little goat offered its backside to him. Cautiously, James reached down and patted the goat on its bony rump. “You’re a real goat, all right.”
“Go ahead, kick me!” The goat shook its head, pansy petals flying from his mouth. “It’s all my fault! We’re doomed! Baaaaa!! Ba-aaaaaa!” It nudged its rump against James’s leg. “Go on! I can take it!”
“What are you talking about? What’s your fault? And how can a goat talk, anyway?!” James scanned the yard. “Is someone hiding somewhere doing your voice? A ventriloquist or something? Is this some kind of joke? Hey! Who’s doing this?!”
The goat looked directly at him. “My, my, my! Suspicious, aren’t we?”
James rubbed his eyes. “This can’t be real.”
“Oh, but it is, James. It is real,” the goat assured him.
James couldn’t speak.
“Oh, dear! What a fool I am. How thoughtless of me. Let me introduce myself, I am Mayor Culpa.”
“M-Mayor Culpa? Mayor of what?” James asked, finding his voice at last.
“It’s an honorary title,” said the goat. “I am the royal mascot of Average. And you are James, an average boy. Am I right?”
“H-h-how do you know m-m-my name?” James stammered, more than a little discombobulated.
“A little bird told me-ee-e.”
“Ha, ha, very funny. I’m on TV, aren’t I?” He looked around for the hidden camera.
“Enough! No more questions! Follow me-ee-e!” The goat took off toward the well-worn path by the lilac bushes.
What was a talking goat doing wearing clothes and spectacles? Maybe there was a circus or carnival in town. James wondered if he might be coming down with some kind of virus. Perhaps he had eaten something that made him hallucinate. Or maybe he was just going nuts. Whatever the reason, he watched the goat disappear into the hedge and bolted after it.
The Realm of Possibility
James hadn’t gone more than a few steps before something even more unbelievable happened.
He was no longer in Mrs. Shubin’s backyard.
The familiar houses were gone. In fact, there were no houses, just a rolling grass-green plain. Craggy mountains wreathed in mist and clouds rimmed an endless horizon. No transporter beam had disassembled James’s molecules and reassembled them on another planet. Somehow, in a flicker of an instant, everything had changed.
James froze. The goat trotted back.
“What’s the matter now?”
“Where am I?”
“You’re here and we’re he-ea-aded to Average.”
James hardly heard a word the goat said. He was still grappling with what had just happened. How had he gotten here? And where is “here”?
“Step lively, there’s no-oo time to lose. Our king is gone—vanished!”
“What are you talking about?”
The little goat kept on as if it hadn’t heard. “And it’s all my fault! Baaa-aaa-aah!”
When he saw James gaping at him and not moving, the goat stopped wallowing in guilt for a moment and smiled (as much as a goat could smile).
“Ah! Good! Yes, yes, very good indeed. Of course, it’s to be expected. The average person doesn’t catch on too quickly. Let me explain. And try not to ask too many questions; there’s only so much an average person should know.”
“H-H-How . . . ?” James stammered.
“How did you get here? The usual way. Nothing unusual ever happens in Average, only ordinary things. It’s the law!”
“Only ordinary things,” James repeated.
“Not grasping it right away,” the goat nodded approvingly. “Fine. I’ll go a little slower. You . . . are . . . not . . . far . . . from . . . Average. The Kingdom of Average, to be precise. A Commonwealth in the Realm of Possibility.”
The goat waited patiently for James to digest this before continuing.
“I’m told you want to become the most average person in the world. Is that correct?”
“How did you hear that?”
“Like I said, a little bird told me-ee-e.”
James shook his head vigorously, trying to rattle his brain into sanity. There were no signs of his neighborhood anywhere. Instead, he surveyed a landscape very much like the one in his doodles. Only this wasn’t crayon, ink, or pencil. The sky was real, cloudless, and pale blue; the air was still; and the ground smelled of real earth and greenery. This was real. Very real!
Stands of small trees dotted the rolling plain in the distance. Each looked to be a day’s walk away. He looked right and left for anything resembling his old neighborhood, but there was nothing. Not a house, fence, garden, or path. Farther out, more rolling hills swelled and behind them, far off in the distance, stood jagged mountains shrouded in a gray haze.
The Realm of Possibility spread out before him. It was stunning and totally beyond belief.
“I’m imagining all this. Aren’t I?” He took a deep breath and looked about. “I have to get home. How do I get out of here?”
“Give up now and go home if you want. We don’t abide failure,” warned the goat.
James’s mind kept reeling. He shook his head harder, trying desperately to shake this reality away without success.
“Hmmm. You don’t look very bright standing there with your mouth open. Maybe you’re not as average as I was led to believe. But if you really aspire to be truly average, then follow me.”
James took another deep breath and steadied himself.
“Are you average or not?” asked the goat.
“I’m average all right . . . or, could be—” but before he could say anything more, the little goat took off.
James called after him, “Wait! I’m coming with you.”
He quickly caught up and marched alongside the goat. “Okay, okay. I can’t deny I’m actually here. This is so weird. It feels like it’s really happening. I’ll probably wake up or come to eventually,” he said, trying to sound as nonchalant as he could, though that was the furthest thing from what he was feeling. This was the most fantastic thing that ever happened to him and he honestly hoped it was real.
“Besides,” he said, attempting to sound rational, “if I really am going to be completely average, I should see what Average looks like, shouldn’t I? What’s it like? Nice, I expect.”
“It’s not a bad place. Goo-o-ood as some, not as good as others,” said the goat. “Some places are baaa-aa-d. Take Accusia. There’s always such turmoil there and they constantly blame us for it. Below Average is Apathia. Nothing ever goes on there to bother about, for the most part. Not so bad, I suppose, but who cares? Then there are the places above Average in the highlands on the other side of Expect Station, where we are now. No one from Average ever goes there if they can help it. And wa-aay in the distance over there—it’s hard to make them out they’re so far away—are the Unattainables, the highest mountain range in the world. Its highest peak is Mount Impossible. Beyond that, they say, is the Realm of Genius. No one really knows if it exists. Many think it’s a myth. But there are stories.”
“Uh-huh,” was all James could muster.
“Never mind all that. We have enough to deal with right here. Our king has gone missing! Everything was just fine and then he vanished without so much as a word.”
“So you had a king and now he’s gone,” James repeated.
“O-oh-oh, he was such an average king!” the goat rhapsodized. “So wonderfully mediocre!”
James nodded as if he understood, but truth be told, he didn’t. “What did he do to be so average?”
“Nothing we didn’t expect,” the goat sighed. “Now he’s gone and there’s no one to rule Average.”
“What about you? You’re a mayor. Couldn’t you—”
“Me-ee-eee-e, King of Average? I’m a goat! Too strange. It’s not permitted.”
“I guess you need someone human. That sounds logical,” James agreed.
“Not just someone! We need the most average person in the world. Someone completely, absolutely, perfectly average in every way. Someone like you.”
“Me? You think I’m average enough to be the king?”
“That remains to be see-een.”
The goat stepped up his pace. “If Average can’t maintain its place in the world, there’ll be nothing for the world to compare itself to. Disaster!” he called out over his shoulder toward James as he trotted along. “Hurry! I must present you to the Council of Judges in Median City.”
“The Council of Judges?” James had to jog to keep up.
“Yes, the . . . judges,” panted the goat. “They deal . . . in . . . the Law of Averages. They gave . . . me a 67 percent chance . . . of finding you,” he huffed. “They also said . . . there was a slight chance . . . you wouldn’t come. Less than 10 percent . . . But you did, thank goodness.”
The idea of being so important gave James pause. “A . . . king? I . . . don’t know . . .” James said between gulps of air as he jogged along. He wasn’t a very fast runner.
The goat stopped abruptly and turned to James. “You are the only eligible candidate! You can’t refuse. If you do, we will fail! We’ll be ruined, and it’ll be all my fault.”
The goat’s expression changed from mild anxiety to awe at the enormity of being blamed for the collapse of an entire kingdom. He pawed the ground and stamped his hooves in a fit of recrimination.
James tried to calm the goat. “I don’t see how this could all be your fault.”
“It is my fault and always will be!” snapped the goat. “I’m a Scapegoat and proud of it.”
“As long as I’m to blame, no one else can be burdened. It’s what I was bred for.”
“Do you mean nothing can ever be my fault?” James asked.
“Of course! You leave that to me,” the little goat snorted, peevishly. “May I continue?”
About the Author: Gary Schwartz is an award-winning TV and film actor, director, comedian and a master improvisational acting coach whose 30 years as a performer and improv teacher has helped transform the lives of thousands of people, both on- and off-screen.
He is the Protégé of the late Viola Spolin, considered to be the Mother of the American Improvisational Theater Movement which gave rise to Chicago’s Second City. Every improv troupe in the US can trace their roots to Spolin’s teachings.
Today, Gary is a passionate, dynamic improv coach and facilitator. He is the founder of Improv Odyssey, an exciting approach to changing the way people work and play, based on Spolin’s techniques. He is founder and Artistic Director of the Seattle area Valley Center Stage Theater.
He teaches and writes about theater games locally and around the world.
The King of Average is his first novel. He is currently at work on his second, The Benji Loper Caper.
To check out my Kickstarter campaign to help bring laughter and insight to kids click here.
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